Warhol’s $1 Million Bills Beat Marilyn in Hong Kong Sale

There’s another side to Andy Warhol -- one that’s worlds apart from those ubiquitous silk-screen images of Marilyn, Mao and Liz.

A Hong Kong show opening today puts the focus on the pop artist before his obsession with celebrity and money.

His anonymous figures and unglamorous subjects on paper are, in many cases, every bit as strong as his later output. These are unique hand-drawn works, completed years before he employed teams of assistants to churn out his mass-produced signed canvases.

The Sotheby’s selling exhibition “From Warhol, With Love” consists of more than 40 works ranging from $10,000 to $1 million and mostly dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

“Female Seated at an Automat Counter” portrays an elderly woman in glasses, her hair in an untidy bun. The products are only faintly sketched in -- a far cry from his subsequent detergent boxes and Campbell Soup cans.

The 1957 “Unknown Male” is a double portrait of the same man, one version in gold leaf, the other in ink, displaying a fluidity and economy of line that recall Matisse and Picasso.

There are also works from Warhol’s “Shoe Period” -- when he was a commercial artist at the I Miller shoe retailer in New York.

These include an ink-and-gold-leaf applique on paper inspired by the British actor Alec Guinness’s turn in the film “Great Expectations.”

By 1962, Warhol began experimenting with stencils. A stenciled work from that year titled “10 x $1 bills” is the most expensive piece on sale, valued at almost $1 million.

Butterfly Screens

Warhol’s sketches from a 1956 trip to Hong Kong, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bangkok and Bali have particular appeal in Asia. The journey also resulted in a colored-ink wash on primed cardboard over a wooden frame folding screen with butterflies, reminiscent of Qing dynasty ceramics.

Bringing Warhol to Hong Kong makes sense because of the power of Asian buyers, says Jacqueline Wachter, a specialist on contemporary art at Sotheby’s New York. It also reflects the New York-based auction house’s interest in expanding private sales.

The works belonged to a single owner who originally purchased most of them directly from the Warhol Foundation, and they have never been offered at auction, Wachter says.

“From Warhol, With Love”, a selling exhibition, is on display at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, 5th Floor, One Pacific Place, from Sept. 12 through Sept. 24.

Information: http://bit.ly/13L40Y7

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market and Catherine Hickley on books.

Editors: Mark Beech, Farah Nayeri.

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